And so all too soon, my tenure at Fortnight comes to a close.
I like to think that my last article, “Hyphenated-Americans,” ends on an optimistic note. What we are is as much what we make it as what we’re born with; we are the architects of our own dreams.* The baggage that identity carries with it is forever changing, from liability to asset, cornerstone to curiosity, cast away to embraced. And all of that goes for collective identity and culture as well.
In the grand scheme of existential questions, “Who am I?” is a close second behind “Why am I here?” Identity remains the catalyst for countless struggles within families, communities, states and nations. The heyday of 1960s-era identity politics may have passed, but we live in an age of unreconciled, increasingly fluid social boundaries.
The idea of a single American identity is a relatively recent construct. During the American Revolution, it was hard to find a single unifying idea beyond that of throwing off the yoke of British rule. But after the war was won, the fledgling Republic suffered its own trials. The failed Articles of Confederation presaged Shay’s Rebellion, and the final Constitution used today. We struggled through a bloody five-year civil war before reuniting, even if at gunpoint. There has always been tension and impetus in different directions here; the United States has always been a restless melting pot.
Today, we’re anything but united. Politically, ethnically and regionally, we’re split even more than perhaps we realize. The number of overlapping identities and allegiances that exist lead to an incredible number of constructed personas. Are Americans a collection of adjectives –Jewish, gay, Christian, Muslim, white, black, Arab, female, young, old–or, are we something more than the sum of these parts? And in an age of ever-increasing fracture, what do we still have in common?
Read the rest at Fortnight. And also, stay tuned for Fortnight, Volume II. My editors, Adam and Samantha, already have some amazing names lined up: James Ransone of Generation Kill and The Wire fame, author Benjamin Hale (whose debut novel The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore is really quite excellent), Army Lieutenant Rajiv Srinivasan, and Digital Democracy founder Mark Belinsky, just to name a few. And those are just the contributors. I can’t even imagine what kind of luminaries they’ll find. As always, thanks for humoring these digressions.
*Apologies for the reference, I only just saw Inception for the first time the other night.